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The Limitcast is back!  It’s time to roll up those Kwanzaa mats, blow out the menorah, and take down the tree.  The holidays are over (finally!) and it’s time to get back to business.  We missed last week, and we apologize, but now we are rallying behind a slew of new topics.

This week’s podcast is going to focus on the critical approach to video game reviews.

Sure, it looks easy.  You sit down and play a game, and write about the experience.  However, there are different schools of thought on how, and who, should review a game.

Should a critic, too deeply invested into a genre, review the game?

Is there a place for subjectivity in a quest for more and more objectivity?

Do gamers even read the words we put on the page?  If I said your mother just walked into my room wearing a two piece leopard bathing suit holding a Nintendo controller and an HD component cable for the Xbox 360, would you even notice?

The Limitcast crew is going to do their best to tackle this colossus, and we need your help.  Leave us your comments.  What do you look for in a review, and for that matter, the writer putting it on the page?

We can’t do it without you guys.  Now, get out there and fill that comment box! 

For those of you new to the show, you can check out our previous episodes here.  You can also subscribe to the cast on iTunes by searching “Gamer Limit.”

  1. It depends on the personality, I suppose. But some of the best reviews I’ve read, whether they are game, film, or music reviews, always end up being written by people who have a passion for that particular genre.

    That’s not to say that those reviews are always positive, either. Some of the best writing, negative or positive, comes from a thorough knowledge of the genre you are writing about.

    Knowledge is power. And while some writers can get carried away on the wings of fanboyism, I’d much prefer an intelligent eye than an inexperienced reviewer.

  2. This is a topic that’s pretty difficult to tackle. I agree a lot with Simon.

    For me personally, I don’t mind who I’m reading a review from as long as they are able to express themselves in an intelligent manner. For example, if someone said, “This game is totally freakin awesome, and if you don’t run out and buy it, you’re a homo,” then I’d think s/he is a complete idiot. Even if they are correct.

    Similarly, I’m always looking for people to answer the question: Why? Why is it so good, why should I run out and buy, why am I a homo?

    Also, it doesn’t hurt if the person has built up a reputation for his or herself as a reliable source of information.

    It’s all pretty general, so it’s a tough question to answer.

  3. The trouble I find with most reviews across the web now is that the reviewing of games has become so weighty. You get bogged down in musical scores, graphical integrity, originality, comparisons, faults with genres, praises for game mechanics and a hundred other valid points. Yet often i read a review and the one thing that doesn’t get mentioned is wether or not a game is actually fun to play.

    I like playing critically aclaimed genre changing gaming experiences but sometimes I just want to play a fun game. While great games like Portal, Bioshock & Dead Space can be both alot of the times you get one or the other.

    Fallout 3 is a critical and commercial fan favourite but I played it for about 9 hours and hated 8 of those hours before stopping playing. I understand why people love it but I really did not.

    Web of shadows was not really a critical or commercial success that changed absolutely nothing about games and did nothing new but I massively enjoyed playing through it and played it twice in a row which is unusual for me.

  4. There’s a huge number of consumers out there who will not pay attention to the majority of what is said in a written review; instead scroll for the summaries or scores, or look for a video review catering to their lack of spare time or adequate attention span. I like reading reviews and writing them alike, but I think people need to realise that a lot of the consumers who look to reviews to justify a purchase aren’t going to base their purchase off of one review, rather, they’ll go through a number of them. Sometimes they aren’t going to have the time to read every review through completely.

    That leads onto the argument of objectivity vs subjectivity in reviews – while you need to have a certain level of objectivity in your writing when looking at each of the individual parts which make up the gaming experience as a whole, you can’t say that your review is more than just an opinion. Sites which rate games on a 100-point scale to show which blockbuster title of the year is better than another aren’t proving anything. Try as they might to justify why one game is worth 1% more than another on their scale, games are constantly evolving and aren’t a form of media which can be compared on a checklist of basic criteria alone. There are going to be some people who like certain games more than others.

    When assigning reviewers, it’s pointless giving a sports title to someone who has no interest in that sport or who hasn’t had experience with that genre. What value is their opinion to those who actually play those games? None whatsoever.

  5. @kowbrainz

    surely though by the same logic it is pointless to give a game to someone who is already in love with that genre of games.

  6. I think there’s plenty of room for subjectivity in reviewing. The key for me though, is transparency. If you’re a huge fan of the genre, or you write fan fiction for a particular IP *cough*, that’s ok. Just let me know in the review so that I know what spin you’re putting on it.

    I lean more towards kowbrainz in that I usually prefer to see a game review by someone who is familiar with the genre, although it never hurts to have a fresh perspective on a game. There’s value in both. I just want to know what level of familiarity the review has with the subject matter.

    Also, just because someone loves a genre, doesn’t mean that they’re going to skew the score upwards. The harshest critics of a genre game can be those who know them best.

  7. @cynicalmonkey: No it isn’t. If you like to play the Madden games and have Madden 09 but you’re wondering what Madden 10 is like and whether the minor embellishments justify a purchase, you want the opinion of someone who has experience with the franchise. If you find a reviewer who only praises mechanics in the game which were introduced in the last two editions and doesn’t really pay attention to the genuinely new stuff, the review is not worth your time.

    I’m not saying the reviewer has to be such a fanboy of a particular franchise that they begin to shun games that try to break away from the standard formula. They just have to have experience so that they know what is truly innovative, what has been done before, where particular mechanics have been derived from etc and can judge a game accordingly. It’s no good if someone stumbles across something today and rates it highly without knowing a similar title did the same thing – perhaps better – several years prior.

  8. I think it can go either way when your talking about having someone who is interested in the genre do the review or someone who is not. A person who may really really like a game could write about it as being something so so because they are expecting the world out of what they like. Someone who may not play said genre as much may be blown away by the same game and will probably write more highly of it.
    Also for example like how Chase didn’t really enjoy Assassin’s Creed I due to it being repetitive etc, but when he got his hands on AC2 and really enjoyed it then Josh was persuaded to buy it because he trusted his judgment.

  9. Preconceived notions are another problem with reviewing. I try my best to wipe a slate clean prior to reviewing, but it can be difficult at times. Those approaching a game for review, with a hard-on for the game before even playing it, may make excuses to themself as to why the flaws aren’t necessarily flaws at all.

    This is a topic I plan to write an editorial on so hopefully I can knock that out before you storm on my parade :)

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